According to the study from the University of Minnesota, women's luxury products often function as a signalling system directed at other women who pose a threat to their romantic relationships.
Carlson School of Management Associate Professor Vladas Griskevicius and PhD student Yajin Wang conducted five experiments on 649 women of varying ages and relationship statuses.
"It might seem irrational that each year Americans spend over USD 250 billion on women's luxury products with an average woman acquiring three new handbags a year, but conspicuous consumption is actually smart for women who want to protect their relationship," said Griskevicius, co-author of the study.
"When a woman is flaunting designer products, it says to other women 'back off my man'," Griskevicius said.
Researchers first investigated what other women infer about a woman's relationship partner based on the luxuriousness of her possessions.
"We found that a woman who is wearing luxury items and designer brands is perceived to have a more devoted partner and as a result other women are less likely to flirt with him," said Wang.
"Regardless of who actually purchased the items, other woman inferred that the man had something to do with it and is thus more devoted to her," Wang said.
In another study, Griskevicius and Wang made participants feel jealous by having them imagine that another woman was flirting with their man.
Shortly afterward, the women completed a seemingly unrelated task in which they drew a luxury brand logo on a handbag. The result? When women felt jealous, they drew designer logos that were twice the size of those in the other conditions.
"The feeling that a relationship is being threatened by another woman automatically triggers women to want to flash
Gucci, Chanel, and Fendi to other women," said Wang.
"A designer handbag or a pair of expensive shoes seems to work like a shield, where wielding a Fendi handbag successfully fends off romantic rivals," Wang said.
Another of Griskevicius and Wang's studies revealed that when romantic relationships were threatened, women not only desired more expensive handbags, cars, cell phones, and shoes, they also spent 32 per cent more of their own money for a chance to win an actual luxury spending spree.
Past research by Griskevicius has found that men often seek expensive products to show off to the opposite sex in order to attract them as mates.
The current studies reveal that women often seek expensive products to show off to the same sex in order to protect their turf.


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